Sunday, August 30, 2009

Cookbook Review ~ The Hummingbird Bakery

As hard as it was to pick the first book to review, I couldn’t resist one of my newer additions to the collection – The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook (UK Edition).

Friday had a hint of autumn in the air so it seemed like a perfect day to do some baking. As it turned out I only made one recipe on Friday so continued baking yesterday which wasn’t as much fun – baking (literally both the cake and myself) in 30 degree weather isn’t such a good decision. Thankfully the results of both days more than made up for it!

The hummingbird bakery was opened in Portobello Road, London, in 2004 by Tarek Malouf and is home to the most delicious cupcakes, cakes, pies, brownies, bars, muffins and cookies. This book is a beautiful insight into the bakery and includes the recipes of all of the delicious baking they have to offer.

The cookbook is one of those rare books I have where I want to make every single recipe in it! I’ll admit I’m not much of a baker although I am trying to do more baking and have realised the only way to become good at it is to keep practising!! What a disaster – lots of fresh baking in the house!

I started on Friday with the hazelnut and chocolate cupcakes. Since I have such a sweet-tooth just now I couldn’t resist a recipe that included Nutella in it. I followed the recipe for the cakes exactly (a rarity for me!) and baked them for the suggested 20 minutes, which turned out to be perfect - the sponges were light and airy and as described in the recipe, bounced back slightly when touched. I thought it might be a bit of a pain hollowing out the centre of the cakes to fill with the Nutella but it was easy using a teaspoon and took no time at all. Perhaps my only comment would be that some of the cakes crumbled and fell apart a little when I did it - and I was being gentle! After filling the cakes with a spoonful of Nutella (I didn’t bother to measure the Nutella out at this point, I just put as much as I could fit in each little centre) I topped them with the hazelnut and chocolate frosting. Despite icing them what I considered to be generously, I still had a lot of icing left over – probably almost half, and that was after adding a little extra to each cake. The end result was delicious – a light and moist chocolate sponge with a gooey Nutella centre and a not too sweet frosting, finished with a welcome crunch of hazelnuts. I have to say with the Nutella in the centre, I definitely didn’t need the additional frosting and in future would probably make only half of the suggested quantity.

Saturday was on to the blueberry cake – perfect for this time of year when there is a glut of fresh, local blueberries available. Again I followed the recipe exactly for making the sponge however I had to bake the cake for 20 minutes longer than the suggested 40. It was worth the extra wait however, as I ended up with a beautifully moist and light sponge cake studded with popped blueberries. As with the hazelnut and chocolate cupcakes I did have some extra icing left over, however you definitely do need to double the recipe for this one and after cutting the cake, I perhaps could have been a little less stingy with the icing! Served with a cup of tea this cake was absolutely delicious and would be perfect for feeding to a crowd.

Having already made the vanilla cupcakes in the past (with great success) and now the hazelnut and chocolate cupcakes and the large blueberry cake, I would without any hesitation make all three recipes again (and indeed plan to!), they will just have to wait as there are too many other recipes I want to try first. My sights are set on making the lavender cupcakes; Brooklyn blackout cake; lemon bars; banana loaf; pecan pie; rocky road bars……..the list goes on!

With easy-to-follow recipes and beautiful photography this book is a must buy for any budding baker, the only problem will be deciding what to make first!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Barbecued Pizza

Well here it is (as requested!), my barbecued pizza recipe. For those of you that haven’t tried it I know it might sound a little strange to cook a pizza on the barbecue, but considering the best pizzas are cooked in a wood-fired oven, it’s not that crazy! Once you try it, you will rarely go back to cooking a pizza in the oven!

My only words of advice for cooking this on the barbecue, is that you have to keep the base thin and the toppings very simple as they won’t cook in time. The recipe makes enough for 2 large pizzas or 4 individual ones, so I tend to make the full recipe then freeze half of the dough for the next time I have a pizza craving. If you aren’t an avid griller then you can definitely make a very good pizza using this recipe and baking it in the oven instead. Simply preheat the oven to 425F/ 220C, put the rolled pizza dough onto a baking sheet (or pizza stone if you have one) top with the sauce and toppings of your choice. Cook for 12-15 minutes until golden and bubbling.

Last night I made 2 individual pizzas for Mr. Vanilla & I (the remaining half as mentioned went into the freezer). I pureed a tin of chopped tomatoes (since I had no passata or crushed tomatoes) for the sauce and added half of a fresh red chilli (the ‘ring of fire’ chillies from the farmers market) which added a lovely bite to the pizza. Mr. Vanilla's was topped with plenty of mozzarella and some shredded ham and I crowned mine with mozzarella and a handful of fresh tomatoes. Both were finished with a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, Maldon sea salt and some fresh basil from the garden. Delicious.

Pizza base:
2 tsp active dry yeast
½ tsp caster sugar
1 ½ cups/ 12flo oz warm water
4 cups/ approx. 1lb 4oz plain or all-purpose flour
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp salt

Tomato sauce:
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large clove of garlic, crushed
400g/ 14oz tin of crushed tomatoes or passata
2 tsp dried oregano
Pinch of chilli flakes (optional)
1 tsp of sugar
Salt and pepper

2 balls of buffalo mozzarella, sliced (if using all the dough)
Fresh basil leaves
Maldon sea salt
Olive oil (if you want you can use garlic or chilli oil)
Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

Place the yeast and sugar in a small bowl or jug and add the water. Set aside for 5 minutes to allow the yeast to activate.

Meanwhile put the flour & salt in a large bowl and make a well in the middle. Add the olive oil and then the yeast mixture.

If you are using a stand mixer attach the dough hook and mix on slow until the dough forms a ball. At that point allow the dough to be kneaded for a further 2-3 minutes. If you are kneading the dough by hand, slowly incorporate the yeast and oil mixture with the flour and then knead until it begins to form a smooth dough.

Transfer the dough onto a floured board or work surface and continue to knead until it is smooth and elastic – you shouldn’t need to do this if you used a stand mixer. (It should be soft to the touch and should spring back if you press it gently.)

Sprinkle a little flour into a large bowl and then put the dough into it. Cover with a clean dish towel and set aside in a warm place for at least 1 hour or until the dough has risen and doubled in size.
While the dough is rising, make the tomato sauce. Heat the oil in a pan and add the crushed garlic. Gently sauté for a minute, being careful not to brown it. Add the tomatoes to the garlic along with the oregano, chilli (if using), sugar, salt and pepper. Stir well then leave to simmer and reduce slightly for 30 minutes. When it looks ready, taste to check the seasoning and then set aside to cool.

To barbecue the pizza, divide the dough into 2 pieces for 2 large pizzas or 4 for smaller ones. Roll out each piece of dough on a floured surface until you get the thickness that you like (thin works really well). Brush the top of one large pizza (or two small ones) with some olive oil then place the oiled side on a preheated barbecue over a very low heat. While the under side is cooking brush the top with some more olive oil. Once the bottom is golden brown, flip the pizza over then spoon the tomato sauce onto the cooked side (as much as you like). Top with some sliced buffalo mozzarella then put the lid down on the barbecue and leave for a few minutes, allowing the bottom to cook and the cheese to melt on top. When the pizza is ready, scatter over some fresh basil leaves, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a good sprinkling of Maldon sea salt. Delicious!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Boxes of books

I’m waiting very patiently for an important phone call so today is a stay at home day….that’s if they phone today. The lovely people told me yesterday that they will call back within 2 days…please be today!! Not that it is a hardship having to stay at home, I have plenty to do to keep me occupied…cleaning, washing, cooking, blogging…but primarily I have another 7 boxes of cookbooks to go through that are sitting in the garage, yes you read right, 7! Now that might not seem like that much but I have already worked my way through 18, and with an average of 35 books per box, well you can do the maths! I have A LOT of cookbooks. The other problem is that my shelves are full…completely 100% crammed packed, sagging due to the weight full, which means that I have the agony of looking at all these lovely books then labelling the boxes and for the time being, relegating them down to the crawl space. Every box has a few books that I HAVE to have out and it pains me to send the rest away, but until I get a bigger house (or at least persuade Mr. Vanilla to let me fill every room with shelves), it is under the house they go. Torture.

The books that have made it to the newly bought shelves have formed the start of my personal cookbook library, which is definitely my favourite room of the house (well perhaps with the exception of my kitchen!). I have tried counting (several times) and have given up (several times), but I would guess there are roughly 500 books (give or take) sitting very proudly in my cookbook room (yes I have a cookbook room! If truth be told, when needed it is a spare bedroom, but mainly it is my cookbook room!!) To most people 500 books seems like an insane amount of cookbooks to own, and I will admit it is a lot, however that is only about half of what I own….the other 500 are downstairs waiting for the bigger house. So what I am really saying is that I am the proud owner of roughly 1000 cookbooks! Now I haven’t bought all of these books myself, in fact probably only about 100 or so have been bought by me, the rest I have inherited from the most wonderful and generous lady who has the same obsession with cookbooks as I do. I have every kind of cookbook imaginable from the 1940’s (and perhaps earlier – I really should check and see what is my oldest book) to the most recent publication, fresh off the printer!

And so on the basis that I have so many books (a lot of which I have still to read as I just received them in Canada not that long ago) I’ve decided that it makes sense to do a book review in my blog. I have a very bad habit of reading cookbooks like novels, marking recipes I like the sound of with post-its then putting them on the shelves, only to be forgotten about! I use them as inspiration rather than actually following the recipe, no matter how much I love the sound of it and so it is time to put a stop to that! From now on I will try and write a book review as often as I can. I was going to suggest every Friday, however I don’t want to make any promises that I can’t keep so I will err on the side of caution, although keep an eye out for the first one this Friday! Now I just have to decide what book to start with!! And on that note I should at least go and finish unpacking the rest….wish me luck!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Suddenly Sunday

And just like that, it’s Sunday! Thankfully it is early on Sunday so I still have a full day of enjoying the sun and relaxation today has to offer. Having said that, this whole weekend has been one of complete relaxation. Friday night kicked the weekend off perfectly with a long and leisurely supper in the garden. On the menu:

Lemon drops for Mr. Vanilla & Homemade Lemonade for me

Prosciutto Wrapped Chicken stuffed with Pesto & Mozzarella served with a Fresh Tomato Sauce; Green Salad & Crusty French Bread

The chicken was perfect – moist and full of flavour and the ideal way to use up the last of the pesto from Thursday. I made a quick tomato sauce with some lovely, sweet tomatoes I picked up in town and topped everything with a drizzle of olive oil and some finely shredded basil from the garden. A simple salad of mixed, organic green leaves was the perfect accompaniment, tossed with a little balsamic vinegar and fruity extra virgin olive oil, and the crusty French bread mopped everything up so ensure a perfectly clean plate. Delicious.

Saturday started with a trip to the farmers market. I meant to take the camera so I could take some pictures of the wonderful stalls overflowing with all the vibrant fruit and vegetables August has to offer, but of course in my excitement of getting there, I forgot it! As usual it was bustling with hungry shoppers, eager to see what was on offer this week. Our first stop was straight to buy a large, sticky cinnamon bun – so big we decided 1 would be enough for the 2 of us (even with my enormous pregnancy induced sweet tooth!). As we greedily pulled apart the sticky, sweet melt-in-your-mouth bun studded with raisins, we casually strolled around having a look at everything there was on offer. Bun devoured, fingers licked clean and our second lap was time to shop! By the time we had run out of money our bag was over-flowing with organic white and yellow carrots, too beautiful to resist; a punnet of yellow tomatoes as bright as sunflowers; some purple heirloom tomatoes (again far too good to resist – I am after all addicted to tomatoes); some wonderful looking plump and succulent Italian style local sausages which would be perfect for tonight’s barbecue; a handful of bright red chillies that were rated 9/10 on the heat scale and were therefore aptly named “ring of fire”; some cooler banana peppers; a block of creamy naturally smoked Boerenkaas cheese from the local cheese company (which would have been impossible to resist after sampling it) and as a snack for Mr. Vanilla, a couple of Bison pepperonis (I got my tomatoes, he got his pepperoni!). Feeling very content with our purchases we left the market for another week, with ideas swirling in my head as to what I could make with everything. The rest of the afternoon was spent leisurely drinking tea and visiting with Mr. Vanilla's family in town, before heading home briefly for a late lunch (the remaining French bread from Friday night slathered with delicious mayonnaise and then greedily crammed with the smoked cheese and tomatoes from the market, and some wild rocket), before heading to friends for a barbecue where the sausages would be devoured. A wonderful Saturday relaxing with friends and family and eating lots of delicious local food – what more could a girl want?!

And just like that it is now Sunday. Today has proved to be the laziest so far, however with my cappuccino now finished (as well as the Da Vinci Code which has been playing in the background), it’s time for me to go and hang out the washing and enjoy some sun. Tonight we are feasting on roast pork at Mr. Vanilla's parents followed by my vanilla clouds that we’ll take over. A light and elegant end to the meal which I’ll top with rose water whipped cream and a scattering of fresh raspberries. I love weekends.

Homemade Lemonade

Perfect for the pregnant, and of course children and anyone else that prefers a non-alcoholic drink.

Freshly squeezed juice of 6 juicy lemons (roughly 250ml)
150ml sugar syrup*
1 litre sparkling or still water
4 or 5 slices of lemon
Ice to serve

*Sugar syrup:
125ml/ ½ cup sugar
125ml/ ½ cup water

To make the sugar syrup mix the sugar and water in a small pan and bring to a gentle simmer until the sugar has completely dissolved. Set aside to cool.

When ready to serve mix the freshly squeezed lemon juice and sugar syrup in a large jug. Add plenty of ice and the slices of lemon then top with the water and serve in a tall glass.

Prosciutto Wrapped Chicken stuffed with Pesto & Mozzarella with Fresh Tomato Sauce

Serves 4 (I halved the recipe for Mr. Vanilla & I and used 2 balls of bocconcini (baby mozzarella) instead of the large ball of mozzarella – use whatever you happen to have in your fridge.)

4 chicken breasts
8 slices of proscuitto
1 ball of mozzarella
8 heaped tsp of pesto (I used the leftovers from Thursday but you could easily use good quality bought pesto if you prefer)
Salt & pepper

For the tomato sauce:
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 red chilli, finely chopped (optional)
10 fresh, vine-ripened tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp sugar (optional)
150ml white wine
Salt & pepper
Small handful of fresh basil leaves
Extra virgin olive oil

Start by making the tomato sauce so that it can gently simmer away and reduce while the chicken is cooking.

Heat the oil in a medium sized pan and gently sauté the onion for 5 minutes until softened. Add the garlic and chilli and cook for a further minute before adding the tomatoes, sugar (if needed), wine, salt and pepper. Simmer gently, stirring from time to time. (If it starts to get too thick towards the end of cooking, pop a lid on top to stop if from reducing any further and if need be add a splash more wine!)

Preheat the oven to 400F/ 200C/ GM 6.

Slice the mozzarella into thin slices and season with salt and pepper. Cut a deep slit down the side of each chicken breast and open it up like a book. Spread two heaped teaspoons of pesto on one side of each chicken breast and top with a couple of slices of mozzarella. Cut 4 squares of tin foil, large enough to wrap a chicken breast in. Lay 2 pieces of proscuitto on a piece of tin foil, overlapping slightly. Place a piece of chicken on top of the proscuitto and season with salt and pepper. Wrap the proscuitto around the chicken, then using the foil roll everything up like a sausage. Twist the ends tightly to secure in place. Repeat for the rest of the chicken then place on a baking sheet and cook in the oven for 25 minutes.

When the chicken is ready, remove from the oven and leave to rest for 5 minutes. Taste the tomato sauce to check the seasoning then add the fresh basil leaves, reserving a few for a garnish. Carefully unwrap each chicken breast as there will be delicious pesto-infused chicken juices in the bottom of the foil, which you can add to the tomato sauce or simply pour over the chicken once you have plated it. Put a couple of large spoonfuls of the tomato sauce on the centre of each plate. Slice each chicken breast into 5 or 6 pieces and lay on top of the tomato sauce. Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil and the remaining basil leaves and enjoy at once with a green salad and lots of crusty French bread.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Vanilla Clouds & Lemon Drops

Since my blog is named Vanilla Clouds and Lemon Drops it seems only too appropriate to include recipes for both. It would have perhaps made more sense to have this as my first post but c’est la vie! That being said however, as it turns out today seems a much more suitable day to include them….it is once again another beautiful day although thankfully the temperature has taken a dip to a balmy 22 degrees and for good measure we have had a refreshing summer shower of rain drops - the perfect summer day for vanilla clouds and lemon drops!

My meringues are just out of the oven, perfectly crisp on the outside and chewy, marshmallow in the centre, cooling slowly and waiting to be adorned with lots of billowing light-as-air whipped cream and toppings of choice. I am happy.
Vanilla Clouds

4 egg whites
225g/ 8oz caster sugar
2 tsp cornflour
1 tsp white vinegar
few drops of good quality vanilla extract

Whipped cream and fruit of your choice to serve

Preheat the oven to 225F/ 110C. Line 2 baking trays with parchment paper and set aside.

In a very clean mixing bowl whisk the egg whites until stiff (you should be able to hold them over your head and they won’t fall out!). Slowly add in the sugar and continue to whisk until they are very stiff and glossy. Sift in the cornflour then add the vinegar and vanilla and careful fold in.

Using a large metal spoon, put spoonfuls of the meringue onto the baking sheets making sure to leave room in between each one. Using the back of the spoon, swirl the meringues slightly so they resemble beautiful, bright white clouds.Bake in the oven for about 1 hour 15 minutes until they are crisp on the outside and lift easily from the parchment paper. Turn the oven off and leave the meringues to cool completely before removing. When ready to serve top with lots of whipped cream and fruit of your choice.

Lemon drop

This is my version of the classic lemon drop – absolutely delicious and very refreshing on a hot summers day.....a grown-up version of lemonade!

Makes 2 cocktails (very easily doubled)

3oz vodka
2oz limoncello
1oz cointreau
1oz lemon juice
1 tsp sugar
Soda water to top up

Put a handful of ice in a cocktail shaker then add the vodka, limoncello, cointreau, lemon juice and sugar. Shake until well mixed and the sugar has dissolved, then pour into 2 glasses (I like to use champagne flutes but feel free to use whatever you like). Top up with some soda water, sit back in the sun and enjoy!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Fresh from the garden

After a day freezing in an air-conditioned office looking out at the blue sky and watching school kids on holiday saunter by without a care in the world (so it would seem anyway!) wearing next-to-nothing, I was delighted to get home and out into the garden. Now I would love to paint an image of me sitting in an idyllic English country garden with lush green grass, rambling roses and forget-me-nots, however that would be a lie, after all I am now in Canada where we have had scorching sun for the past two months and are now on Stage 3 water restrictions (which really just means absolutely no excess use of water at all – even the paddling pool has been relegated back to the garage to collect dust, as it is not allowed to be filled). Instead what we have is some very seriously dead grass, our cedar hedge - which is starting to fill in nicely - and a few plants that we are allowed to water, which thankfully include a blueberry plant, 3 tomato plants, 10 chilli plants and 2 beds of herbs.


Hello and welcome to Vanilla Clouds and Lemon Drops!!
There I have done it – after months and months of planning to start my own food blog I have finally done it! Phew, that wasn’t too bad!
The reason for starting my own blog is simply to share my recipes with friends and family and anyone else who is interested in trying them out and reading what I have to say about food and anything food related.
My love of food goes back many, many years and now at the age of 30 I have decided it is time to really dedicate time and energy to this love of mine, after all it has provided me with enormous pleasure and indulgence for a long time – I owe it something. I am a self-taught cook that enjoys simple home cooking, sometimes with a little extra effort thrown in for good measure, but I am certainly no chef.
My aim with this blog is to write as much as I can about food and provide as many recipes as possible. I cook using a variety of seasonal ingredients mixed with all the staples you can easily buy year round. I love farmers markets but I also understand that sometimes when time is tight it has to be a quick trip to the supermarket, so recipes don’t generally include obscure or impossible to find ingredients……yet!
As well as sharing my recipes, my hope is that Vanilla Clouds and Lemon Drops will provide me with a lot more motivation and drive than I have recently had. Even for someone who loves to cook and thinks about food in one way or another on a daily (almost constant) basis, it is still easy to find yourself stuck in a rut unless you push the boundaries and constantly look for new inspiration and ideas….so voila! Let the inspiration come flooding in!
I am going to try and include as many photographs as possible but since neither Mr. Vanilla (my patient but well fed husband) nor I are professional photographers or food stylists, you will have to put up with our amateur clicks.
Oh and one other important thing you should know…..the reason it has taken me many months to get this blog started, is due to the fact that I am pregnant! May was the month I was meant to start blogging, especially since I wasn’t working at all….perfect time to start a blog right??! Wrong! Hours at the office were replaced with hours in the bathroom as my hormones decided to launch a fully fledged attack on me with morning, day and night sickness. For the first time since I started cooking, everything food related was shunned and hidden from sight – something that I never in my wildest dreams thought could happen. Thankfully though for the most part it seems to be over, so with no more excuses it’s time to launch Vanilla Clouds and Lemon Drops….we have lift-off!
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